7 April 2014

Vilnius, Lithuania - amazing free walking tour

This will be my last blog post about the city of Vilnius - capital of Lithuania. And the one thing I really want to emphasise again is how amazingly creative and surprising I found Vilnius to be.

I know Lithuania is probably not top of many peoples travel lists, but I would thoroughly recommend it as a destination if you're based in the UK and Europe.

The city of Vilnius, Lithuania

If you do visit - my #1 tip would be to start your stay with the Vilnius Free Walking Tour. Martyna, our guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly and gave up almost 5 hours of her day to show us many hidden gems I wouldn't have discovered on my own. 

Do it! You won't be disappointed. 

Here are some of my favourite spots from the tour...

Lithuania flag, Vilnius Town Hall and George W Bush

1. Lithuania flag, Vilnius Town Hall and George W. Bush
The walking tour started in front of the Town Hall - where the Lithuanian flag is proudly displayed. The flag is made up of three horizontal coloured stripes - yellow to represent the sun, green for all the park and countryside in Lithuania (40% of Vilnius is green) and red representing the blood spilt during the war.

This spot is also famous because it's where George W. Bush made a speech in 2002, inviting Lithuania to join NATO, and where he announced "anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America". You can watch a video of the speech here if you're interested. A very important moment in Lithuania's history, but we also had a chuckle at how these days many locals wish the speech had come from a different President. Ahhh George W. Bush, hours of entertainment!

"German Street" - Vilnius, Lithuania

2. Vokiečių (German) Street
This is one of the oldest streets in Vilnius and for centuries it was known as the city trade centre. Many Germans moved to Lithuania in the 14th Century, as they were invited by the Duke of Lithuania and did not have to pay any taxes as an incentive. This street also has a strong connection with the Soviet Union, and actually when you stand here (although it doesn't show in my photo) each side looks very different.

The Russian side of the street is very typical of Russian architecture, and Martyna told us about the movie The Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath, which pokes fun at how all architecture in the Soviet Union is identical. One to watch soon!

St. Nicolas’ Church - the oldest church in Lithuania

St. Nicolas’ Church - marked brick, Lithuania

3. St. Nicolas’ Church - the oldest church in Lithuania
St Nicola's was built in the 14th century by the German community living in Vilnius. If you look closely many of the bricks have finger prints pressed into them. Martyna said she wasn't sure, but believes there are three possible reasons:

i) People were not very good at making bricks back in the 14th Century
ii) As the bricks were drying a stray cat walked over them
iii) the brick makers would mark every 1000th to mark their progress :)

The old Jewish quarter of Vilnius, Lithuania

The site of the Jewish Synagogue, Vilnius Lithuania
the site of the Jewish Synagogue, destroyed during the war, where a council estate now stands

4. The site of the old Jewish quarter of Vilnius, and the designated Jewish ghetto set up by the Nazis during WWII
Prior to the war the Jewish population in Vilnius was almost 100,000, and made up almost 45% of the total city population. After the war only 24,000 Jews survived.

Dr. Tsemakh Shabad

5. Statue of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad
A very famous doctor in the 19th century who was very popular with the children of Vilnius, as he would proscribe milk and chocolate as the medicine for every illness. One day a girl brought a small sick kitten to him, which he also cured so the legend goes.

6. The Free Republic of Užupis

7. The Mayor of Vilnius
Martyna also entertained us with stories about the Mayor of Vilnius throughout our tour, including one story about the time he drove a tank over a locals car for being parked in a cycle lane. Don't believe it? Here's the YouTube proof.

Literatų Street, Vilnius Lithuania

8. Literatų Street
For anyone who loves books, this very cool street is decorated with art celebrating many Lithuanian writers. Here are some of the pieces that caught my eye...

Teeth for literary critics, Vilnius

Teeth for literary critics - who can be cruel when reviewing books.

Sign language, Lithuania

A universal hand gesture that unfortunately can mean quite different things. In South America this is a sign of good luck. However in Lithuania making this sign at someone is considered very rude! In New Zealand, where I grew up it was something my Granddad would often do that meant 'got your nose'.

Art dedicated to Thomas Harris, Lithuania

This piece is dedicated to Thomas Harris, the author who created the famous Hannibal Lector. Anyone who has read the books will know that Lecter was born in Lithuania. A fact left out in the popular Silence of the Lambs movie.

9. Narrow street
The narrowest street in Vilnius, less than a metre wide.

The narrowest street in Vilnius

10. Local food
After almost five hours on our feet we were ready to dine like locals. Martyna finished our tour by pointing us towards some local restaurants to try delicacies such as fried bread and cheese, and potato and bacon pancakes served with bacon sauce...

Restaurant built in an old monastery, Vilnius Lithuania
restaurant built in an old monastery 

Potato and bacon pancakes, Vilnius, Lithuania

Nothing like finishing a tour with comfort food!

Thanks again to the amazing Martyna from the Vilnius Free Walking Tour for such a fantastic day.

9 comments:

  1. Free walking tours are the best!! Wow, so many stories the streets hold in Lituania...I wouldn't have known if it weren't for seeing it through your eyes. Bacon and potato pancakes sound like a typical food there, is that right?

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    1. Thanks Lis-ita - and there were so many more stories I have since forgotten or didn't include. Anything made from potato is traditional in this part of the word. I think the bacon is a modern-day luxury! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  2. This is great! I feel that even though I live in Vilnius I should take the tour! A great idea and a great post.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth. You should! It was the best walking tour I have done in a long time. Highly recommend it - and say hi to Martyna from me :)

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  3. I love walking tours! When I saw that sculpture of the hands, my first thought was 'got your nose' and then I kept reading haha

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  4. It's not at the top of my list but it looks like a gorgeous city, so I may need to add it to my list! Thank you so much for sharing :)

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  5. I love free walking tours! And potato pancakes! But really, I think free walking tours are the best way to see a city, especially on your first day in a new place to figure out what you want to see more of. Thanks for linking up again! I'm definitely adding Literary Street to my travel bucket list. :)

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  6. I've been so surprised and amazed by your Lithuania posts! I did not expect it to be such a fascinating city! I love that narrow street!! I'd like a good wander down it! :)

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